Laid out like KTM’s Moto3 racer, the RC390 has a lightweight tubular steel frame, aluminium swingarm and WP suspension – chunky non-adjustable 43mm upside forks up front and a single shock, adjustable for preload at the rear.
Although relatively stiffly sprung the damping at both ends is soft, especially at the rear but it makes for a comfortable ride and combined with its light weight (just 147kg dry) it’s easy for the less experienced to jump on and ride the wheels off it, which is what the RC390 is all about.
It’s perfect for learning the art of cornering and there’s always something electrifying about riding a small bike to its limit that you just don’t get on a bigger, more powerful machine. The key to peddling the KTM quickly is to maintain momentum through corners, brake as little as possible (just as well – the single disc set-up lacks power), hold your breath and flick it on to its side.
Despite its bouncy set-up the chassis is composed, there’s lots of ground clearance and things never get out of control, even when you’re bouncing off the kerbs on track. It’s only when you want to flick from side to side quickly you wish the suspension had slightly more control – something KTM addressed with the limited edition (500 built) RC390R, which had fully-adjustable WPs.
Controls are smooth and light and it’s easy to thread through traffic but ride the KTM a long way and you wish the bars weren’t quite so low and that the seat didn’t have all the cushioning of concrete. Fitting a more comfortable perch is a must if you’re going to do big miles, which it’s perfectly long-legged enough to do. On the flip side, those bars are set wide and the tall seat gives you lots of legroom, which makes it ideal for taller riders.
Aside from the front disc diameter growing 20mm to 320mm, which didn’t improve braking power by much, the chassis was left unchanged for its light 2017 refresh, which when compared to the new and improved 390 Duke of that year, made the RC390 feel old and refined at a stroke.
Lifted from the 390 Duke of the day, the RC390’s liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, six-speed, single-cylinder 373.2cc motor produced 44bhp and weighed just 36kg.
It’s a gem of an engine, if a little vibey. The original model had a smooth, friendly throttle, but after it gained ride-by-wire, Euro4 fuel mapping and a side-mounted exhaust (with a corresponding new bellypan), its throttle became snatchier.
At low revs old and new RC390 motors are docile, but the KTM will still out-grunt its twin and four-cylinder A2 licence rivals. There’s an almost two-stroke-like step in the power at 7000rpm, which fizzles out around 10,000rpm, so you need to scream it through the gears and keep the throttle welded to the stop to really get going.
But keep it pinned and it’ll quickly hit the magical ton and even pull clutch-up wheelies in first. It sounds great on the throttle, too, rumbling like a Moto3 weapon.
Ridden normally it’ll do around 63mpg, which will give a theoretical range of 138 miles from its tiny 10-litre tank, but after 120 miles the dash will be screaming at you to say you’ve run out, even when you haven’t.
Made by KTM’s partners, Bajaj in India, the RC390 build quality is acceptable, but it has a more plasticky feel than its Japanese rivals, especially machines like the Honda CBR500R and Kawasaki Ninja 400.
We’ve experienced gearbox problems on test bikes before (jumping out of 4th gear) and owners' reviews of running hot in traffic, excessively loud cooling fans and general corrosion, aren’t uncommon.
New prices aren’t cheap, but RC390s tend to hold their value well, which is important on a machine you’re likely to trade up from, once you’ve moved onto an A licence.
It won’t cost the earth to run and insure, but if you’re willing to do without a fairing and clip-ons you get a lot more for your money with KTM’s own 2017-onwards 390 Duke - an altogether more polished and well-rounded A2 licence option.
The KTM RC390 is a rival to the Honda CBR500R, Kawasaki Ninja 400 and Yamaha R3.
Insurance group: 15 of 17 – compare motorcycle insurance quotes now.
Standard equipment includes a four-piston Bybre radial front caliper, 10-spoke lightweight wheels, LED running lights, a multi-function LCD dash with a gear position indicator, WP suspension and racing seat hump made from a foam/plastic material that doubles up as a pillion perch. You even get backlit switchgear and nice detail touches including orange cable ties holding the wires in place.